Paul T Davies reviews Titled Wig’s production of The Picture Of Dorian Gray now playing at the New Wolsey Theatre.
The Picture of Dorian Gray.
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.
2 April 2019
It’s not hard to see that Wilde’s story, first published in 1890, finds many parallels and resonance in our youth obsessed society. It’s a Poe like tale of a handsome young man committed to a life of hedonism who remains unmarked by debauchery and age, while his portrait, hidden away, accumulates the terrible onslaught of time and decadence. Now we filter our selfies, can air brush our image and Botox seems an easy option. I find it interesting that Wilde’s stories, as well as his plays are still so popular; Unfortunately, Tilted Wig’s production is a bit of a curate’s egg, good in parts, but lacking a strong dramatic development.
One positive is Sarah Beaton’s design, the set is a damp looking artist’s studio, that allows the action the flow freely between scenes and time, and the costumes are neither period specific nor ultra modern. Although the look works well, herein lies the problem with the production, it continually falls between two stools, neither one thing nor the other. It’s not Gothic enough, camp enough and certainly not thrilling enough. There are some good moments, particularly an amusing example of late nineteenth century acting in part one, and some Wildean wit survives in the script. But, although he first half sets things up for a promising second act, the pace in part two slows horribly, and everything is telegraphed to the audience. Whenever something nasty is about to happen, the glass case containing the gun and knife lights up, and artist Basil Hallward helps Gray out by positioning himself on a plastic sheet to be murdered by Gray, minimising the need to clean up afterwards. There is a horribly clichéd drug party scene, no surprise that the music thumps, the cast move slowly then fast, touch each other up, and the stage is flooded in red light. I was bored of this representation before ecstasy begat MDNA begat meth, and wish companies just wouldn’t do it anymore.
The cast do some good work. The gay subtext remains firmly a subtext, but Daniel Goode was particularly fine as artist Basil Hallward, who paints the portrait and falls in love with Gray, a lovely, gentle performance of yearning and morality. Jonathan Wrather captures well the disintegration of Lord Henry Wotton, unable to escape the clutches of time and debauchery. The women are one dimensional, a shame considering that, in the plays, Wilde’s women deliver much of the humour and common sense. Phoebe Pryce is impressive and does much with the role of Lady Wotton, but it is a desperately under developed part. Dorian Gray becomes corrupt during the interval, and this quick reversal means Gavin Fowler plays him mainly on one, arrogant note.
It’s hard to defend theatre against accusations of being unrelentingly middle class when audiences are asked to care about rich, idle nihilists like these, we don’t get to know some of Gray’s victims to balance that out a little. For me, this was a production of much potential, but a stronger decision to update the material fully and edit it to a brisk ninety minutes or so may have underlined Wilde’s themes more strongly.
Until 6 April 2019